'Political Islam' and the Muslim Brotherhood Review Contents

2Democracy and political Islam

Democracy and elections: Winning elections

20.Some political Islamists emphasise that an acceptance of democracy is at the heart of their values, and some have specifically identified themselves as ‘Muslim Democrats’.33 But this assertion has been treated with scepticism by some. For example, Dr Maria Holt, from the University of Westminster, told us that “Islamic involvement in politics is viewed by many in the west and some western governments as being inherently ‘dangerous’ and probably undemocratic”.34

21.In as much as they have seen an extension of free and fair elections, democratic openings in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region have resulted in a number of successes for parties that we would classify as political Islamist. There were examples in Algeria, Turkey, and the Palestinian Territories prior to 2011, but it was the Arab Spring revolutions—and the elections that they led to—that gave political Islamists an unprecedented opportunity to seek power in several MENA states. Different varieties of political Islamist performed strongly in elections in Tunisia (2011), Morocco (2011 and 2016), Egypt (2012), Libya (2012), Iraq (2014), and Jordan (2016).

22.The acceptance of democracy by political Islamists has led to them being condemned by extremist, militant Islamist groups. ISIL, for example, devoted 25 pages of the fourteenth issue of its regular propaganda publication (in April 2016) to denigrating the Muslim Brotherhood for—among other things—participating in elections.35 The group has been similarly condemned by Al-Qaeda, whose leader Ayman al-Zawahiri released an audio message in August 2016 that described the Brotherhood as misguided for participating in parliamentary elections under a secular constitution.36

23.As well as contesting national elections, several political Islamist parties told us that their internal procedures were also premised on the principle that decision-making bodies should be elected. Dr Radwan Masmoudi, an advisor to the President of Tunisia’s EnNahda party, described EnNahda’s decision-making institutions as elected:

There is the Congress—we had one just two and a half weeks ago—which is about 1,200 elected people. It is the highest institution in the party. Then there is the elected Shura Council, with 150 people, and they set the policy between the two Congresses.37

24.The Muslim Brotherhood also emphasised to us that its internal procedures were premised on elections. The organisation’s evidence to the Muslim Brotherhood Review, which was also submitted to our inquiry, said:

The Muslim Brotherhood is a democratic organisation that despite the repression, managed to elect more than nine leaders since its foundation until today through a popular internal democratic process. It is of note that all positions within the Muslim Brotherhood from the most junior post to the most senior are obtained through elections.38

25.The Nour party, a Salafist party from Egypt that participates in elections and is associated with a more conservative interpretation of ‘Islamic law’, also told us that its internal institutions (its president, presidential committee, and its High Authority) are elected.39

26.Several witnesses gave us a theological justification for the compatibility of Islam and democracy, rooted in the Islamic concept of ‘shura’. Mohamed Soudan, the Foreign Relations Secretary for the Freedom and Justice Party, said:

According to Islam, it is the society as a whole—not one person, like the Egyptian pharaoh in the time of Moses—that owns and exercises power…Al-Shura, or consultation, is the Quranic expression of democracy.40

Ibrahim Mounir was another witness who emphasised the relationship of ‘shura’ with democracy, saying that “an action cannot take place against people’s choice and opinion, at least in priority matters; this is where a near-complete (if not complete) consensus can be reached”.41 Among the characteristics of democracy that were emphasised by the Nour party in Egypt were “Shura (consultation)” and “considering the opinion of the majority of those who have the right to vote”.42

27.Political Islamists self-identifying as democrats have embraced elections as a mechanism for contesting and winning power. They should be allowed to freely participate in democratic processes, and the FCO should use the ability of political Islamists to take part as one of the key criteria for defining free elections in the MENA region.

Democracy and elections: A ‘majoritarian’ understanding?

28.Tobias Ellwood MP, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the FCO, told us that a ‘winner-takes-all’ conceptualisation of democracy was an issue in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA):

That is a failing, I should stress, which both secular and Islamist parties are prone to and which points to the need to develop a culture of democracy throughout the region. Whichever party comes out on top in an election needs to recognise the need to govern on behalf of all sections of the electorate.43

Speaking about political Islam in particular, the FCO said that the participation of some groups in democracy was “purely tactical”,44 and that:

When political Islamist groups declare that they are going to embrace the democratic process, we should welcome that but remain vigilant as to whether this is a real and lasting conversion.45

Some witnesses have argued, particularly with regards to the Muslim Brotherhood, that political Islamists have held a ‘majoritarian’ view of democracy, meaning that they reduce democracy to votes and elections (rather than considering wider cultures of democracy) and that they emphasise themselves as victors, without the need to share power or compromise on their policies.46

29.The EnNahda party from Tunisia and the Nour party from Egypt specifically refuted this accusation of majoritarianism. The Nour party told us that it had accepted representation in Egypt’s 2012 constitution-drafting assembly that was less than the proportion of its representation in parliament, and that it had insisted on the inclusion of other, smaller parties in a variety of processes.47 From EnNahda, Dr Rafik Abdessalem, the head of the party’s External Relations Department, told us in the party’s written submission that:

Ennahdha approached the transition with the view that transitional phases should not be governed by a 51% majority. It sought to build consensus between the broadest possible trends in society in order to establish stable and shared democratic traditions.48

30.In terms of emphasising itself as a victor, the Muslim Brotherhood and its sympathisers have argued that the group’s Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) “won five elections” in Egypt.49 We examined the five votes that took place in Egypt in 2011 and 2012:

i)Of these five votes, two were referendum campaigns. The FJP campaigned on the winning side of both campaigns. These referendums were votes on issues rather than votes on parties per se. The FJP was not the only party to campaign on the winning side.50

ii)The FJP’s other three victories came in elections. In the second round of the 2012 presidential election, the party did win a majority of the votes cast: The FJP’s Mohamed Morsi become president after he won 51.7% of the votes cast and his rival, Ahmad Shafik, won 48.3%.51

iii)In the other two 2012 elections, to the Lower House (People’s Assembly) and Upper House (Shura Council) of the Egyptian parliament, the FJP was the best-performing party, though it did not win a majority of the votes cast. In elections to the Lower House (completed in January 2012) the FJP won 37.5% of votes cast.52 In elections to the Upper House (completed in February 2012) the FJP won 45% of votes cast.53 Other parties, such as the Salafist ‘Nour’ party (which was the second-best performing) and the more-liberal, secularist ‘Wafd’ party (which was the third-best performing), also gained significant representation.54

iv)Turnout figures varied. For elections to the Lower House, turnout was 54%.55 For elections to the Upper House, turnout was approximately 11-12%.56 For the second round of the presidential election, which Mohamed Morsi won, it was 51.85%.57

31.We asked Sondos Asem, a former Foreign Media Coordinator at the office of President Mohamed Morsi in Egypt, about Morsi’s victory as the FJP candidate in the second round of the 2012 presidential election.58 To assess whether the FJP had exaggerated its mandate, we observed that the result had seen the FJP win the votes of approximately quarter of the electorate rather than, as Miss Asem had previously argued, “a majority of Egyptians”.59. She replied that:

The suggestion that the President only had the support of a “quarter of the electorate, not a majority of Egyptians” is typical of an unfortunate double standard that has plagued assessment of the situation in Egypt. The standard in any democracy is the mandate given by voters. For example, in the US presidential elections in the same year, Mr Obama won only 51.1 percent of the votes, with a voter turnout of 54.9 percent. That represents only 28% of Americans. Yet no one would dispute Mr Obama’s mandate.60

It is also the case that other political Islamist parties at the time—the PJD in Morocco and EnNahda in Tunisia, in 2011—also won power without receiving a majority of the votes cast in their elections.

Democratic culture: sharing power

32.As well as the mechanics of elections, democracy also involves a broader culture. A key aspect of this culture, and one that was especially relevant in the political context that followed the Arab Spring, is power-sharing. The free and fair elections that took place in several Arab states in 2011 and 2012 gave Arab political parties an incentive to compete. But their highly-fractured political environments, combined with the need to govern effectively and re-draft national constitutions after decades of dictatorship, gave them a need to cooperate.

33.In both Tunisia and Morocco, political Islamist parties won elections in 2011 and shared power through coalition governments. They formed these coalitions with more secularist parties and, in both Morocco and Tunisia, the winning political-Islamist party included in its initial coalition the party that had performed second-best in the election:

34.In Egypt, the Freedom and Justice Party won a plurality in the 2012 parliamentary elections. But it did not ultimately form a coalition with the second-best performing party (the Salafist ‘Nour’ party) or with the third-best performing (the more liberal, and secularist, ‘Wafd’ party).

35.Witnesses sympathetic to the FJP told us that the party took numerous steps to be inclusive. Sondos Asem said that President Mohamed Morsi had fulfilled his promise to have “an inclusive presidential team” as he appointed four “senior assistants” with the rank of deputy-prime minister, including a woman, a Coptic Christian, and a Salafist.70 Wael Haddara, a former senior advisory to Mohamed Morsi, told us that the former president had “coordinated meetings with every segment of society”.71 His evidence then provides a list of different meetings held on different dates.72

36.Nevertheless, a report commissioned by the Egyptian authorities, and published in June 2015, said that “the Muslim Brotherhood’s assurance that it did not seek to monopolise parliament was nothing more than a façade”.73 When asked what factors led to the removal of the FJP from power, Tobias Ellwood MP said that “there was resistance, if you like, to the monopoly of power that the Muslim Brotherhood was creating”.74

37.In their definitions of democracy, political Islamists have sometimes emphasised a highly mechanical understanding that equates democracy with elections, and reduces elections to an outcome of ‘winners’ and ‘losers’. There is a risk that this definition fails to take sufficient account of broader aspects of democratic culture, such as power sharing and inclusive governance. In terms of how they have behaved in power, some political-Islamist parties—especially EnNahda in Tunisia—have shown a greater acceptance of broader democratic culture, including a commitment to give up power after an election defeat. The FCO should encourage a broader understanding of democracy, and condemn majoritarian and exclusionary practices whether they are committed by Islamists, their opponents, or other governments.

Democracy and checking power

38.A key principle of democracy is that there is a separation of the different branches of the state, and that a system of checks and balances exists between them. In particular, the independence of the judiciary is maintained under democracies, to ensure that all individuals—no matter what their power or status—are subject to the rule of law.

39.Critics of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt have accused this group in particular of disregarding these principles. These critics have focused on the relationship of President Mohamed Morsi (and his FJP-led government) with the judiciary. The report commissioned by the current Egyptian authorities argued that the FJP had disregard for the rule of law. One example that it gave was an effort by President Morsi to prevent the Egyptian parliament from being annulled:

On 10 July 2012, Morsi reinstated the Islamist-dominated parliament that had previously been disbanded by the Supreme Constitutional Court on the grounds that it was unconstitutional as its membership was too unrepresentative…The decision to defy the court’s ruling and reconvene Parliament raised concerns that Morsi was acting beyond his authority.75

The report also gave the example of a decree that President Mohamed Morsi issued on 21 November 2012 (Morsi later rescinded the decree, on 8 December 2012.76). It described Morsi as:

Granting himself almost total power while effectively neutralizing a judicial system that had emerged as a key opponent. He did so by declaring that the courts were barred from challenging his decisions and in particular barring the Constituent Assembly from being dissolved rendering any dissolution ruling by the courts moot.77

40.The Muslim Brotherhood and its sympathisers told us that, rather than undermining democracy, actions like Mohamed Morsi’s 21 November decree were designed to protect elected institutions from unelected bodies—like Egypt’s judiciary—that were biased against the Brotherhood. The Muslim Brotherhood’s submission to the Muslim Brotherhood Review said:

President Morsi issued a decree in an attempt to protect the constitutional process and protect the Assembly from being dissolved…Morsi undertook these protective steps as it was clear to him at that time that the Judiciary were not neutral.78

41.The FJP and its sympathisers also identified the military as another aspect of the “deep state”79 that they felt to be biased against them. Sondos Asem told us that:

The inability of President Morsi to safeguard elected institutions led him to resort to the controversial November 2012 decree…the real struggle in the Egyptian transition was not simply ideological, but was a power struggle between pro-democracy forces and an entrenched undemocratic military regime…The coup against President Morsi was perhaps a result of his persistent (but failed) attempts to challenge a deeply entrenched military regime.80

42.The FCO should have made clearer its concerns over the incompetent, non-inclusive, and narrow nature and behaviour of President Mohamed Morsi’s government in Egypt. The FCO should also condemn the influence of the military in politics as contrary to UK values. The FCO should not let itself be seen as justifying the way in which the FJP was removed from power in Egypt, and it should be forthright in highlighting to the Egyptian Government the contradictions inherent in forcibly excluding the Muslim Brotherhood from taking part in democratic processes.

33 The EnNahda party identifies itself as ‘Muslim Democratic’ in its evidence (ISL0022). See, also, the use of ‘Muslim Democrat’ by Dr Abdulmawgood Dardery, a former member of the Egyptian Parliament for the Freedom and Justice Party (FJP), in ISL0027 para 1, or by Sondos Asem, formerly Foreign Media Coordinator at the office of President Mohamed Morsi, Egypt, in ISL0041.

35 We will not link to or quote from ISIL propaganda. A summary of the publication was produced by Middle East Eye, among other sources.

36 We will not link to or quote from Al-Qaeda propaganda. A summary of the audio message was produced by The Long War Journal, among other sources.

37 Q68

38 Written evidence from ITN Solicitors on behalf of the Muslim Brotherhood, the Muslim Brotherhood’s submission to the Muslim Brotherhood Review, paras 102 and 103. Placed in the Parliamentary Archives.

41 Q47, ISL0058. Other witnesses who highlighted the concept of ‘shura’ included Dr Daud Abdullah from the British Muslim Initiative (ISL0002, para 3.1) and Dr A Amr Darrag from the Freedom and Justice Party (ISL0009 para 4).

43 ISL0057, Q1b

44 ISL0047, para 1

45 ISL0057, Q2

46 See, for example, the descriptions of ‘majoritarianism’ used by Alison Pargeter, a researcher and Middle-East analyst, in ISL0039, and by Dr Courtney Freer, from the London School of Economics, in ISL0005, para 5 (with regards to the Muslim Brotherhood); or the description of the Muslim Brotherhood’s conceptualisation of democracy used by Professor Noha Mellor, from the University of Bedfordshire, in ISL0003, para 22.

48 ISL0022, para 13

49 See, for example, the comment on “five elections” in Dr Daud Abdullah, from the British Muslim Initiative, in ISL0002 para 6.6, and Sondos Asem, a former Foreign Media Coordinator at the office of President Mohamed Morsi in Egypt, in ISL00041 para 6. Miss Asem later clarified that she had meant that “a majority of voters” had supported the FJP on these five occasions, rather than ‘a majority of Egyptians’ (ISL0050).

50 For the March 2011 Referendum, for example, several sources referred to the National Democratic Party (NDP, the party of President Hosni Mubarak who was deposed in 2011) as supporting the same side as the Muslim Brotherhood. See, for example, New York Times, Egyptian Voters Approve Constitutional Changes (accessed 27 July 2016); BBC, Large Turnout in Egypt’s Constitutional Referendum (accessed 27 July 2016); and Al-Jazeera, Deep Divisions over Egypt’s Referendum (accessed 27 July 2016). The December 2012 Referendum saw the Muslim Brotherhood joined in its support for the draft constitution by some Salafi parties, such as the Nour party. See, for example, Al-Ahram, Egypt draft charter vote ‘right move for stability’: Salafist leaders (accessed 27 July 2016) and Al-Jazeera, The Salafi Nour Party In Egypt (accessed 27 July 2016).

51 Full results from Egypt’s High Elections Commission, in Arabic, accessed 1 August 2016

52 Egyptian sources from the time, such as the newspapers Al-Masry Al-Youm and Daily News Egypt, reported that the FJP won 10,138,134 votes out of 27,065,135 votes cast.

53 According to a statement released on 26 February 2012 by the Muslim Brotherhood’s website Ikhwanweb.com, which quoted the High Judicial Elections Commission. Accessed on 22 July 2016.

54 Different sources exist for the results of these two elections. Sondos Asem lists the result of the Lower House (People’s Assembly) elections as: “The [FJP-led] Democratic Alliance garnered 44.9% of the vote. The Islamist bloc led by the Salafi Al Nour party received 25% of the votes. The remainder of the votes went to the Liberal Al Wafd party (7.5%), the Egyptian Bloc (6.7%) and a coalition of young revolutionary activists (1.6%)”(ISL0041, para 17). Sondos Asem listed the result of the Upper House Elections as: “The FJP gained 45 percent of the seats in the Shura Council elections (105 seats out of 270) followed by the [Nour-party led] Salafi/Islamist coalition at 28.6 percent, The Wafd Party at 8.45 percent and The Egyptian Bloc at 5.43 percent” (ISL0050, para 2).

55 ISL0041, para 16

56 Observers from the Carter Center put turnout at less than 14% in the first round of the Shura Council elections, and less than 7% in the second round (page 6). The website Mada Masr quoted Ayman Abbas, then head of Egypt’s High Elections Commission, as saying in October 2015 that turnout in the 2012 Shura Council election had been 12%.

57 ISL0050. Also reported by observers from the Carter Center (page 5).

58 ISL0050, first question

59 ISL0041, para 6

61 The National, Tunisia’s troika of parties must learn to compromise, accessed 25 July 2016.

62 Brookings Institute, Tunisia, The Courage of Compromise, accessed 25 July 2016. For EnNahda’s account of its reaction to Tunisia’s 2011 and 2014 election results, see ISL0022 paras 12-15.

63 ISL0022, para 12

68 ISL0041, para 15

70 ISL0050. Sondos Asem said that these four were (1) Dr. Pakinam Hassan El-Sharkawi, assistant for Political Affairs. (a woman). (2) Dr. Samir Morcos Abdel-Masseih, assistant for democratic transition. (a Coptic Christian) (3) Dr. Essam Al-Haddad, assistant for Foreign Relations and International Cooperation. (FJP) and (4) Dr. Imad Abdul-Ghafoor Abdul-Ghani, assistant for community outreach (Salafi, Nour Party). Anas Al-Tikriti also referred to the appointment of these advisors as being a sign of inclusivity (ISL0049).

71 ISL0010, para 13b

72 ISL0010, para 13b

73The Egyptian Experience of the Muslim Brotherhood in Power 2012–2013’, para 39. This is part of a series of reports commissioned from ‘9 Bedford Row’ by the State Lawsuit (Litigation) Authority of Egypt after the removal of the Muslim Brotherhood from power. This, the second report in the series, was provided to us by the Egyptian Embassy in London.

74 Q170

75The Egyptian Experience of the Muslim Brotherhood in Power 2012–2013’, paras 76 and 78. This is part of a series of reports commissioned from ‘9 Bedford Row’ by the State Lawsuit (Litigation) Authority of Egypt after the removal of the Muslim Brotherhood from power. This, the second report in the series, was provided to us by the Egyptian Embassy in London.

76The Egyptian Experience of the Muslim Brotherhood in Power 2012–2013’, para 216. This is part of a series of reports commissioned from ‘9 Bedford Row’ by the State Lawsuit (Litigation) Authority of Egypt after the removal of the Muslim Brotherhood from power. This, the second report in the series, was provided to us by the Egyptian Embassy in London.

77The Egyptian Experience of the Muslim Brotherhood in Power 2012–2013’, paras 100, 102, 111, and 112. This is part of a series of reports commissioned from ‘9 Bedford Row’ by the State Lawsuit (Litigation) Authority of Egypt after the removal of the Muslim Brotherhood from power. This, the second report in the series, was provided to us by the Egyptian Embassy in London.

78 Submission from ITN Solicitors, on behalf of the Muslim Brotherhood, to the Muslim Brotherhood Review, para 71, placed in the Parliamentary Archives.

80 ISL0041 paras 49, 50, and 52

3 November 2016